37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Sunday 8 November 2015
Time for another big update, I think.
November 3rd was a very special date for me – it was the last fixed date I had marked in my calendar for this year after a very, very busy summer. Right now I’m back in Varna, Bulgaria, and getting ready to settle down for the winter and simply write.
Here’s a review of some of the subjects that’ll be coming up over the following months.
First off, I’m happy to report that my two tours were a huge success. I was lucky in both instances to end up with a good crowd, and overall the experience has been an excellent introduction to the practical side of a subject that I’ve been writing about for a long time. Rather than just telling people to visit the fading monuments of socialism in Eastern Europe, I’m now facilitating it; and that feels good.
I’ll be updating my Tours page soon – adding photo galleries from past trips, as well as having a think about some dates for potential tours in 2016. This is something that is only likely to expand in future, and I’m already thinking about running tours in countries beyond just Bulgaria… so watch this space, I guess.
I spent the second half of October exploring Latvia and Lithuania – hopping across that border half a dozen times, travelling by bus and train and car to visit a range of really interesting sites in either country. You’ll see plenty of galleries to come from these trips. Some of my personal highlights include the Hill of Crosses, a bizarre Catholic pilgrimage site in Lithuana; the Soviet ghost town and former radar base at Skrunda-1 in Latvia; the former concentration camp at Salaspils; an abandoned Soviet missile silo now repurposed as a Cold War museum; and Visaginas, a town in Lithuania built from scratch to house the workers at a nearby nuclear power station.
That last one is particularly interesting in the way it parallels the ghost town of Pripyat, in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It’s almost like peering into an alternate universe where the accident had never happened, and instead the reactor town was allowed to simply grow old gracefully.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be sorting through my images, and putting some galleries online for you. I’ll probably end up writing a general piece about travel in these two countries too, as I found it so interesting comparing and contrasting them as I hopped back and forth from one to the other.
Before all that though, my next public post will be looking at the Daugavpils Fortress in Latvia: once a Russian Imperial stronghold, which since then has passed through the hands of the Latvian Army, the Nazis and the Soviet Union. It was a really photogenic site, and one with an incredibly rich history behind it. I’m already halfway through writing that piece, so it’ll likely be online early in the coming week.
Always a favourite destination of mine, London rarely fails to provide me with quality material to write about. This last visit was no exception – as I finally managed to find my way inside the iconic Battersea Power Station! In recent years the building has gone from abandonment to redevelopment, and so at the time of my visit it was filled with lights, scaffold and engines, making for a really interesting juxtaposition of art deco architecture and modern infrastructure.
I came back with a lot of photographs from the power station, so it’ll take me a while to sort out my favourites – but once I’m ready, that’s going to be appearing as a blog post sooner rather than later. You’ll get it first, of course, as a preview image gallery.
During this last trip to London I also stopped by the new Jack the Ripper Museum. The place has been in the papers lately, due to some controversy over its opening; and the problem with memorialising a history that centres around violence against women. It’s definitely a difficult subject, and one that should give me plenty to write about. I’ll be including the museum in a longer post I plan to write, talking about the phenomenon of Ripper Tourism in general – including walking tours, independent visits to the Whitechapel murder sites as well as the museum itself.
The Exclusion Zone
Having some downtime this winter is going to mean I can put some more thought into The Exclusion Zone. As I’ve mentioned before, I really want to develop this area of the site – adding a better navigation system, as well as forums and various other community-driven features.
I also have a lot of new content to add. I’ve been rather distracted by the book lately, which means instead of getting regular private posts over the past few months you’ve had 65,000 words about Bulgaria’s socialist-era monuments instead. I hope that’s a satisfactory trade… but with the book now out of the way, we’ll be back to the regular programme of slightly-more-sensitive articles and stories.
The next thing up will be a story about the time I was assaulted in Istanbul, Turkey. I was going to feature it in my last blog post about Byzantine tunnels beneath Istanbul, though in the end it felt that the tone didn’t match the largely historical-archaeological angle of the public post. Plus, it’s a bit more of a personal story too, so I’d feel more comfortable giving it a limited readership.
Look out for that one later this week.
While on the subject of The Exclusion Zone, I realise that I’ve not been doing very well on the voting front. In my last editorial I offered a vote, and an article on Czech Communism seemed to be the most popular choice. It still hasn’t appeared yet though.
The problem I’m finding is that I just haven’t felt inspired to write it yet.
Rather than planning my posts in advance, instead I usually write whatever I feel like writing at the time. That way, I’m always telling the stories which I feel the most inspired by in that moment. I like to think that this approach helps me to keep the quality of posts as high as possible – though I’m realising now that it doesn’t lend itself very well to a democratic system! (Much like the regime I had promised to write about, I’m offering a vote and then failing to deliver the people’s choice.)
Anyway, I’m going to aim to get that Czech piece out before the end of November, and as soon as that’s done I’ll set up another vote. I apologise again for the delay in getting to it – although now we’re reaching the cold, dark part of the year, I think it’s going to be much easier for me to settle down and immerse myself in the subject.
I think that’s about all for now. I can’t think of anything to add – though as ever, feel free to drop me a line if you have questions or suggestions. Incidentally, I sent out a bunch of postcards a few weeks ago… I’d be interested to hear if any of them arrived!
Alright, back to work.
Well… actually I’m off to see the new Bond film now, but I promise I’ll get to work right after that.
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